Boxing: Simply the purse

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AL BRAVERMAN, an anciently roguish employee of Don King, the ubiquitous American boxing entrepreneur, speaks endearingly about the promoter who called upon him to suggest an opponent for a rising young British fighter.

A name having been mentioned, the conversation went something like this.

'Can he box?'

'Just a little bit,' Braverman replied.

'Is he strong?'

'Only for a round or so.'

'Can he punch?'

'Not enough to worry you.'

There was a long pause on the line from London. 'I'm not happy about it,' the promoter said. 'Sounds as though the fella could be dangerous.'

'What are you looking for?' Braverman growled, 'a fighter without arms?'

That tale immediately sprang to mind in California earlier this week when a boxing enthusiast of long standing telephoned to say he had finally run out of patience with Chris Eubank whose cynical exploitation of the World Boxing Organisation super-middleweight championship was taken to a ludicrous extreme against Juan Carlos Giminez, of Paraguay.

A video recording of last Saturday's contest at the G-Mex Centre in Manchester revealed that Giminez, who for reasons known only to the WBO had been promoted to No 6 in their rankings, possessed a full set of limbs but not much in the way of technique or power. In Braverman's classic assessment he can box a little bit, he absorbs punishment and might find it difficult to break an egg.

As a learning device for an up and comer, an opponent who in the words of A J Liebling 'would keep the fellow entertained while enriching his curriculum', Giminez would have been ideal. As yet another depressingly inept challenger for Eubank's title, which is the least credible of four available in the 12st division, he was merely a reminder that in Britain it is possible to fool most of the sporting public most of the time.

How else can you explain support for a cause, both live and on television, that is more vaudeville than boxing, characterised by eccentric posing, shamelessly cautious matchmaking, a refusal to take any significant risks in the ring, and statements to the effect that there is no more in boxing for him than a pile of money?

To hear Barry Hearn, who gleefully rides the bandwagon as Eubank's promoter describe him as modern phenomenon who will continue to draw crowds and command a huge television ratings, raises a question about sports watching in this country that transcends boxing.

A view long held here is that football in England might not have gone into technical decline but for social changes that eroded the influence of an essentially working class audience who would not have stood for the modern coachly notion that frenzy is a science bordering on the occult.

Hoping to bewilder and fend off criticism, the brothers shroud their sweaty craft in mystery to create the impression that football is an art so involved and technical, so profound, abstruse and esoteric as to be removed from ordinary knowledge and understanding.

Where supporters once knew the difference between good and bad players, and made their feelings known, they have willingly subscribed to the intellectualising of a simple game.

In the protests mounted against some managers and coaches who pay no account to artistry and style there is evidence to suggest that there are better times ahead in football.

The old knowledge offers a happy alternative, but not, it seems, in British boxing.

If Hearn is correct in his understanding of Eubank's appeal, and allowing for the subjective reporting that undermines respect for ITV's boxing commentators, it will become increasingly difficult to make a case for the hard old game.

This is not to suggest that fighters should always engage in the sort of gruelling contests that Eubank had against Nigel Benn and the ill- fated Michael Watson when he gave clear proof of heart and will and not a little ability.

But the burning questions now are when will Eubank next fight a worthy challenger (he intends to defend again at Olympia in London early next year) and how long will it take the public to reject his ridiculous act?

There is ground for complaint when a champion blatantly, publicly exploits the credulity of sports buffs across the land.